Psychology of a riot…Summer 1965
While I was stationed at Treasure Island, I occasionally went over (aka ‘went ashore’) and wandered around looking at stuff. I’ve used the trolley so many times that now it’s nostalgic for me. Spent many hours in fine restaurants in downtown San Francisco as well. Also many hours on fisherman’s wharf. This predated the Haight Ashbury stuff by a couple years but that by no means precludes activism. More on that later.
One of the things I did was to visit a burlesque show. I was from a pretty small town…Walla Walla, Washington…population around 30,000 at that time…and hadn’t been to many large towns except to pass though. Anyway, at age 18, I went to this show. I had to smile the whole time because it was almost exactly like the old movies I’d seen about burlesque. The theater was obviously built to look very old, late 1800’s or so. Very ornate with red velvet everywhere, including the seats. I actually thought that perhaps it had survived the earthquake and fires of the Great Quake. Lights were pretty dim so the place looked very clean. It was hushed and with the ornate and amazing architecture, seemed stately. While I was sitting there waiting for the show to begin, I glanced around and laughed out loud when, 5 or 6 seats to my right, in the row behind me, I see a guy making himself comfortable, wearing a trench coat, just slipping his hand into his crotch under the coat. I couldn’t believe that all those jokes I’d heard about pervs in big cities were based on fact.
Then the comic came out, did a few jokes and then started introducing the girls. I have to tell you people, six of the seven women that came out and did classic strip tease dances were six of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Beauty queen looks, movie star good looks. I was blown away. I expected skags. When I glanced back at the guy in the trench coat? Yep, yanking it. I had to laugh again, and as I glanced around the theater, there were like five or six of those guys going at it. The theater had 100 or so seats and it wasn’t full or anything since it was the first show, like around 4:30pm.
During every one of my shore leaves, I always went to the USO in downtown since they had free snacks, pool tables, and a piano there and I liked to tinkle…since I’d taken lessons for several years. Most of the pieces I knew by heart were classical and you need to practice allot to stay on top of them. One afternoon when I went in there, there was another guy already playing. He was brilliant. So talented that he had a crowd around. He was asked by a curious onlooker why he was playing a piece in a different key then the asker had learned it, the player said he just played in his favorite key and with a musical flourish, changed keys. Then I asked him to play the piece in four flats…his hands just danced around until he was playing that same piece in four flats. Wow. And he did that kind of stuff for the next hour.
That’s when I decided that all the practicing in the world would never make me as good as he was. Basically, then and there, I stopped playing or caring about practicing. Wonder what happened to him.
Another day, I was wandering around SF, I don’t remember the day of the week or anything but I remember knowing that there was going to be some kind of war protest that day after a parade. So I watched the parade and after it ended, there was a lot of people just standing or milling around while the families left. Then it got ugly. Shouts of protest, banners started flying, and cops started arresting, people pushing loud-mouthed hawks, doves asking for hugs, and on and on. Hmmm, I was thinking, just getting interesting.
Pretty soon, there was an impromptu antiwar march going on. And a half hour later, from where I stood on the street, I could see probably 15,000 people marching down the hill toward Fisherman’s Market. This amazed me. I had never seen that many people marching for anything, and this was an antiwar march! Pretty cool being 18 years old and seeing all those people my age all against war and hate and such.
Well, I sort of followed along on the sidewalk as the march got bolder and bolder, then the whole group got angry with the cops that were trying to stop this unauthorized march. I have to say how weird it was to get swept up in this march. I was just wandering on the sidewalk along with them, then I felt an urge to step onto the street to march along, it was a mental thing, palpable, Jung’s overmind control or something. Then I got very angry, I could feel and sense the anger sweep up the street towards me, I wanted to kill something, or at least knock it down and stomp on it and I had no idea what or why. Then, as we, thousands of us nearly running now, passed an alley, I ducked into it. Deep down, I didn’t want to stomp on anyone, didn’t even know why I’d wanted to at the start. As I stood there in the alley, watching all the marchers shouting, fists raised, angry, rushing to kill something, I got a hold of myself and calmed down. Wow, mob rule. Now I knew what that meant.
Went back to the base shortly after, with a lot to think about. Mobs, war, peace, free love.